I know the issue of having rational conversations with fundamentalist family members has been discussed in the past, but I recently had a conversation with my mother, that I would like some feedback.
I need to provide a little background information first… Almost three years ago I was hospitalized due to severe abdominal pain, I remained in the hospital for three days before leaving AMA (I did not want exploratory surgery, and that is what I was being pushed towards). Since then I have seen several different specialists; from GI’s, Infectious Disease Specialists, etc.). I’ve been through ever test imaginable, even going so far as having my RNA sequenced (RNA-Seq). After years of test, the only thing that everyone can agree on is that I have some type of autoimmune disease; however, narrowing down the specific autoimmune disease seems to be a process of elimination.
My mother, who I love dearly, is a fundamentalist Christian; she believes the earth is only 10K years old (that pretty much says it all). We have had discussions in the past about religion and the fact that I am an atheist and every discussion results in the same situation… she begins screaming and shuts her ears and mind to anything I am trying to say. Because I love her, I usually just ignore her comments about praying for me, having her church pray for me, etc. However, recently she has been giving my phone number to her fellow church-goers who have been calling me telling me that they are praying that YHWH will heal me… this pissed me off.
I spoke to my mother last night, she asked how I was doing to which I replied the standard, I’m doing just fine. She immediately jumped into the god-talk. She said I needed to thank god/Jesus for making me healthy. I explained to her that I do in fact have a disease; I am not cured simply because I am not in the hospital. I then asked who provide my personal cellphone number to her church members (I already knew the answer). She skirted around the question before finally answering that she had given it to them, but only because they love me and are concerned for my health.
At this point I asked her to never again give my contact information to strangers. Furthermore, I told her that those strangers do not love me anymore than I love them… We do not know each other and have never met; using the work love is either a weak attempt to justify doing something that she know would anger me, or she really does not understand the word.
I had had enough, and probably should have ended the call, but I wanted to make myself absolutely clear. I told her that no only to I want the calls to stop; I do not want to be the subject of prayer in her church. I went on to explain that being an atheist is not a phase, I’m 33, and it was unfortunate that my childhood indoctrination did not work. At this point she was screaming and not listening to anything I was trying to say. She told me that I was going to burn in hell for dismissing her god, and I better get on my knees and pray to the loving father. I couldn’t help but point out the obvious to her; I told her that if such as loving bearded man in the sky existed, he would not require my constant worship and would never send anyone to burn for eternity for not falling to their knees in prayer. I attempted to explain how her relationship with her god is nothing more than sadomasochism not love. That only enraged her further at which point she told me not to make fun of (which I wasn’t), or try to discredit god almighty because she loves him more than anything. I told her that was the first true statement she had said during the entire conversation… “You love your imaginary friend more than you care for me,” I said this specifically because she has told me in the past that she cannot come into my house because I am an atheist?!? She shows very little concern for me, but often tries to overcompensate by saying I love you 30 times during a 20 minute conversation. I ended the call, she tried to call me back in a few minutes, but I didn’t answer – I didn’t see the point.
I hope you can help me with a few questions:
I love my mother, but I had just reached a point that I could not bit my tongue any longer. The conversation will likely mean that she will have little interest in me or my life for quite a while… I don’t expect her to suddenly open her mind to the possibility that not everyone believes as she believes. My only hope is that I have not completely destroyed my relationship with her.
You had you RNA sequenced? That’s cool. It is better to see a scientist or doctor walk into a hospital room than a pastor. I wonder do those strangers pray that god cures you or that the doctors do?
I don’t think you have ruined the relationship. However it does appear to be stressing you out which is of no good for your head or your health. So time out is the most important thing for now. I think you should let things quite down for a while and stop all contact. This will give all parties time to reflect. I get the impression you live a distance from your mother. Invite her to either come a visit you on her own as long as it is agreed beforehand that god is not to be discussed. If not maybe both go on a vacation together to a place that is neutral or new to both of you, preferably not in the bible belt!! A change of scenery will help.
Maybe try email for a change as it will force her to consider what you saying. It cannot be dismissed so easily. Good luck.
I don't think that you have ruined your relationship with her, at least not making it any more damaged than it already is. While I'm no Richard (of Friendly Atheist fame), I'd say that this was actually a good step. You need to make it clear to your mother that you are an adult and you expect to be treated like one. She is acting like a child (screaming and throwing tantrums) and if she wants to continue to have an ongoing relationship with her son, she needs to start acting like a mature adult and not a spoiled brat, expecting you to just accept whatever she does while refusing to accept things about you.
Thanks guys, I appreciate the advice. I think, like Reg said, I'm going to let everything cool off before I make contact with her again. I don't want to have another discussion while I am still angry (which I am now).
Dave, you caught onto the nuance of the my post; we already have a strained relationship -- but I also think it is a good thing to make myself clear, and stop placating her.
It always amazes me that people will accept abuse from family that they would not tolerate from a stranger
I struggled with that for a while Doug... the whole issue has been approaching the boiling point for some time, and something changed within me last night that I could not accept it any longer. I knew what her reaction would be, but even after she started screaming and would not let me speak, I stayed on the call and listened for several minutes before I finally disconnected. You're right, if that had been anyone else I would have ended the call much sooner.
I wonder if it is normal to take more shit from one's family than from others? Regardless of the issue, it seems like most of us take more shit from our family than we would from anyone else, perhaps it's just a cultural 'norm'.
Always remember the YOC rule! "Yes; uh-hu; of course"! When she phones you and 3/4 of your answers aren't these: your are doing it wrong.
Long answers will result in the conversation partner asking more question. Sounding bored will cut of the conversation and is only midly rude. Using the YOC rule is kind of educating the other side. Bonus points for recording it on your computer and having it played randomly.
I wouldn't call mindlessly agreeing with someone educating them, Michael. Saying 'Yes, of course' might eventually cause the other person to stop engaging in long conversations, but only because they figure that you agree with them on everything and are a dull conversationalist to boot.
You have two choices. You deal with her or you cut her out of your life. I personally wouldn’t have contact with anyone that treated me that way. I would go as far as calling her and telling her you are done and why. Leave it at that. Maybe one day she will get over herself and show you the respect you deserve.